Harro!

So my life has taken a sudden uptick and I haven’t been able to devote as much time writing as I’d like to.

Just letting you all know I’m still alive and well – just busier than normal.

I’m hoping to be able to post more, but in the meantime I hope everyone is well! ❤

Remember, if you’re looking to apply to the JET Program and have any questions, feel free to ask me. I’ll try to do my best to answer them.

Likewise, anyone doing NaNoWriMo this year? Let’s hear about it!

Tackling the JET Program (Part 7): Placements!

 

Hey new JETs, it’s that time of year again! After what feels like months of agonizing silence, you’ve finally gotten your placement!

I love this time because the internet explodes with curiosity, excitement and uncertainty. New friendships are formed as leaving JETs get in contact with their successors and vice-versa. The staying JET community is flooded with excited gossip about who’s coming next, where they’re from and what they look like (Yes, I’m serious. I dare anyone to argue with me about this).

This is a super exciting time as it means that you’re one step closer to moving to Japan! Having an assigned prefecture/city/town/island makes it all the more real. Ahhh!

Here are some tips that I found helped me when I first got my placement in the wonderful Kumamoto prefecture.

 

 

  •  Reserve your judgmenet about how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ your placement is

When I googled Yatsushiro City, the only thing that came up was the depressingly barren Wikipedia page. I actually don’t think it’s changed at all since I last checked it three years ago. I learned about a giant pommelo fruit (banpeiyu) that is grown there, a festival in November…and the main shopping area that is ‘in decline’.

To be honest, I was a bit bummed. Where was this strange place that I was going to? All my other friends who had been accepted to JET were rejoicing in their placements that were only a couple of hours from Tokyo or Osaka. I felt as if I had kind of been exiled to Kyushu – far away from my friends and the big cities that I associated with being ‘REAL JAPAN’.

When I actually arrived in my city, however, I found it to be so much more than I ever expected. There were two giant malls, a gorgeous mountain range to the east and a port to the west. There were ample hiking opportunities, I was super close to a train station and they were actually building a shinkansen (bullet train) stop that was to be completed within the next year.

My point is: don’t put full faith in whatever you happen to scrape together about your placement on the internet. There’s really no way to know how much you’re going to like or hate it until you are actually there. Don’t be discouraged! It’s far too early!! 

 

  • Don’t compare yourself to other JETs and their placements.

I touched on this briefly in the last bullet point, but it’s important. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Especially those who think they know all about their placement. I had people at Tokyo Orientation practically bragging to me about being placed in X Y Z prefecture and how they were going to be so close to A B C and how they were going to do D E F every weekend.

Coming to Japan is exciting, it really is. I think that some people get so caught up in the excitement of it, though, that they start to fantasize they’re already living the life they’re dreaming about. It might sound great to be located only three hours from Tokyo. The reality, though, might be having to drive/take a bus 50 minutes through the mountains to get to the nearest train station in order to hop one of two daily trains that head that direction. Not quite as glamorous as it sounds.

If you compare yourself to other new JETs who are bragging about their placements before even getting there, you might start to feel unnecessarily bad about your own awesome placement. Pay them no mind. Just nod politely, maybe give them the ‘wow, cool!’ that they so desire…and then forget about it.

 

  • Start connecting with people ASAP!

I am a very social person. As such, I immediately began to scour Facebook and other social media when I received my placement. I discovered the AJET page for Kumamoto, joined it and announced myself. I was met with an incredibly warm welcome and instantly found myself put in contact with other JETs in my city or nearby. I then got to ask them all of my noob questions and, in the process, became even more excited about going.

I found in my time in Japan that, as a whole, the JET community is amazingly supportive and welcoming. Take advantage of this social network. In my experience, JETs in your prefecture are just as excited to meet you as you are them. Trust me 🙂

 

  • Reevaluate your expectations.

Surely, if you’re moving to Japan, you’re prepared for things to be different. But knowing your placement can solidify things you had been wondering about. Maybe you’re going to have to get a car and you didn’t think you would need one. Maybe you’re going to be a high school ALT and you really really wanted junior high/elementary. Maybe you’re going to be the only person in a village of 3,000.

I think that, applying to JET, many of us have expectations about what it could be like. When you get your placement, however, these expectations could shift slightly or be totally obliterated. If you were planning on being super close to Hiroshima because you studied there once…only to be found out that you were placed in Northern Hokkaido, you might have to reevaluate your expectations.

Like I said before, don’t get discouraged because things turned out different than you had expected/wanted. It’s important to keep an open mind and roll with the punches. Not only is it required almost every day as a JET, it’s quite possible that you will grow to love your placement more than you ever thought you could.

 

And that’s about all the advice I can think of at the moment! As I said, this is an exciting time and it’s a step closer to the reality of moving to Japan! Enjoy the time you have left while you prepare for your adventure!

If you’re a JET, where are you headed? If there’s anything else that I could maybe help with, feel free to leave a comment! And, if you’re headed to Kumamoto, congratulations!! 😀 

TACKLING THE JET PROGRAM APPLICATION (Part Four: the Statement of Purpose)

G’day Blokes and Sheilas! It’s a cold day here in San Antonio (where we don’t use words like ‘bloke’ or ‘sheila’, wtf?). My life has been pretty busy lately, but I figured that I’d write another post for those who are looking to apply to the JET Program for the 2014 intake! 

 First, let me start by saying that the deadline for the JET Application has been extended to DECEMBER 3rd, 2013! This is unprecedented and awesome for those applicants who want to make sure that their application is airtight and perfect! 

 In my last entries, I’ve talked about the application itself. This time, I want to focus on that two-page essay to end all essays: The Statement of Purpose. 

 Now, for me, the SoP was the hardest part of the whole application. As far as your total score goes, the SoP counts for quite a bit of it. It’s the only chance that you’ll have to really sell yourself as a worthwhile candidate. No pressure, right? Don’t worry, as long as you’re succint and eloquent in what you want to get across, you’ll have no problem. 

 What’s that? You aren’t? Don’t worry, I’m not either. Anyone who has read my rambly-ass blog posts knows that I, too, am far from succint and eloquent. My main problem was that the SoP can only be two pages double-spaced. That’s nothing. After many many many drafts, I finally came up with one that I was happy with and sent it off to DC. 

 Here are some tips that helped my verbose self write an effective (or so I assume) Statement of Purpose: 

 – Don’t ramble. Don’t try to take the reader on a journey and paint a story for them. The people reading these essays read dozens of them every day. Cut the flowery language, metaphors and whatever else takes up too many words. Be straightforward and to the point. 

– Don’t be cliché. If you’re mentioning why and how you ‘fell in love with Japan and its culture’, make sure you avoid being cheesy or trite. ‘My grandma had a vase from Japan in her house and I loved it since the day I set eyes on it…’ makes for a pretty weak-ass reason to have become interested in an entire culture and country. You can’t expect the people reading these essays to buy fluff and bullshit, they do this for a living and are ruthless

– Don’t use any Japanese writing in your essay. Not only do the instructions say ‘in English‘ in bold letters, but it can also really screw up your formatting and cost you valuable space. It won’t ‘prove you can speak 日本語 really 上手’ and it will just make your essay look strange. Trust me, this is one gimmick that will not go over well. 

– Don’t make it all about your wants. ‘I would love to learn Taiko’, ‘I would love to climb Mt. Fuji’, ‘I would love to see the cherry blossoms in the spring’, ‘I would love to visit the Peace Museum in Hiroshima’. This is all well and good, but it’s a bit selfish, don’t you think? JET doesn’t want to hear about what you want to do IN the country they’re sending you to, they want to hear about what you can do FOR the country they’re sending you to. Although it is an essay about you, I would recommend highlighting the skills and qualifications you have that would benefit those around you. Not just what you hope to accomplish and check off of your bucket list while there. 

– Do explain yourself. ‘I want to teach kids English!’ Well, that’s great. So do 5000 other people who are also applying this year. Why do you want to do so? Make sure you explain yourself and answer the question of why you want to do this program. Be thoughtful and honest in your answer. 

– Do be interesting. If you have an interesting tie to Japan, mention it! As long as it’s not about your grandma’s vase. 

– Do highlight any relevant experience you have and make yourself sound awesome! Can you play the guitar or another instrument? Awesome! Are you trained in a martial art or have you played a certain sport for a long time? Boom! Were you in acting for several years? Nice! Can you speak five languages and Pig Latin on top of it? Great!

– Do ask for feedback from other people. I found this was very helpful for me – especially asking former/current JETs. Just keep in mind that after everything, it is ultimately YOUR essay, so do what you think feels comfortable and right. Also, read it out loud to make sure it flows well. 

Those are all the tips that I can think of right now! I hope that I’m able to help at least one person! Let me just throw out a disclaimer that these are all just my opinions and I’m not associated with JET nor do I have *~*~*~iNSiDe KnOwLeDgE~*~*~* about the secret workings of the program. 

 Until next time! Happy applying! And happy Thanksgiving to those in the states celebrating it this week! 🙂 

Tackling the JET Program Application (Part 3)

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Hello hello! Sorry for the delay in posting, life has been busy and blah blah. Let’s look at the rest of the online application for the JET Program! I’ll try to give any tips I can think of.

For now, I’m going to skip Contact Information, Higher Education and Teaching Background. I mean, they’re pretty straight forward and I doubt I can give any tips on what you studied in uni, where you live etc. 😛

International Experience: With this section, I would just say to list as much as you can. Even if you think it’s insignificant. Did you travel to Canada once when you were in junior high school? Put it. Did you go to Mexico every year to visit relatives? Include it. People who have traveled and experienced different cultures are looked favorably on by JET. If you’ve studied in a foreign country for an extended period of time, you had better be sure to include the documentation of your study abroad course.

Employment History: For this, I’m not going to say much.  Give some thought to how you answer the final question, however. You probably won’t earn too many points by writing something like ‘Well I’d love to live in Japan for a while and then travel a lot’. Think of how Japan can benefit from you after you leave. 

 Japan Related Studies: Fill out all the Japanese study you’ve done – both formal AND informal. Rather than writing that you watched anime with English subtitles, you might just want to list it as ‘self study’.

For the Japanese language evaluation, BE HONEST. If you can’t speak a lick of Japanese, that’s okay. If you’re めちゃペラペラ, that’s okay too. I’ve heard people often debate that if your Japanese level is too high, JET won’t accept you. This is not true. Use the guidelines provided and be honest with your Japanese language proficiency, it’ll be easier on everyone.

Other information: Put all of the awards, volunteer, extracurricular activities that you can! In my opinion, this section looks good when it’s all full. Think of as many relevant activities that you’ve done that would fit here.

A new question that was not on my application was the ‘b. When did you first become interested in Japan?‘ and ‘What was the reason that you first became interested in Japan?’ 

I would say to just answer these questions honestly. Don’t worry about sounding like an otaku if you became interested in Japan by watching anime or playing videogames as a child. I know that as a child, DBZ, Sailor Moon and Pokemon were my JAMS. From there my interests branched out to solely Japanese pop music.

I’m willing to bet that a sizeable majority of people who apply (and have applied in the past) were introduced to Japanese culture in the same way. The JET people know this.

And finally, we come to the Self-Assessment Medical Form. The only advice I can give is to, once again, BE HONEST! I actually think that it’s much more important to be honest here than anywhere else in your application. If you have a condition of any type, let them know now. If not, it might come up later and cause delays and other headaches. Once again, JET accepts people of all kinds. So don’t worry that you won’t be accepted if you have a certain type of condition or affliction 🙂

And that’s it! I’ve given you all a rundown of the online application and any tips and thoughts I had. Hopefully I was able to provide some helpful advice for anyone applying this year! As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave me a comment!

Good luck with the online application! I’ll try to write another post about the SoP (Statement of Purpose) and references. And then interview process too!

頑張って、ね!

 

 

Tackling the JET Program Application (Part 2)

Back for a second round of JET Application tips! Let’s get to it, shall we?

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13. Driving in Japan: This is a question of personal preference, I think. Do you want to drive in Japan or not? Some people think that answering ‘NO’ on this question when they have a driver’s license makes them seem ‘less flexible’, but I disagree.

I did not drive while I was in Japan. I had a blue, 5-speed bicycle named Shirley that my happy ass zipped around on for three years. Biking everywhere was great exercise, convenient (for centrally-located me) and something I had never done before.

However, there were times where I definitely wished that I had a car.  The swelteringly hot summer days, the days of torrential rain that would fall in sheets, the frigid winter mornings where the biting wind would slice through my 7 layers of clothing and those incredibly windy days where I felt as if I were swimming through a lake of molasses.

There were times when I needed to get things home that my little front basket just couldn’t handle. It wasn’t uncommon to see me tottering carefully back and forth down the street – multiple plastic bags dangling from both my handlebars.

Laundry with a bike was also fun – shoving my collapsible hamper into my front basket and hurriedly riding through my town, hoping that neither the nosy obaachans nor my students would catch sight of my damp, brightly colored undergarments.

Looking back, I’m glad that I didn’t drive in Japan. Biking everywhere had its fair share of difficulties, but for me it was worth it.

Sorry for the bit of TL;DR. I’ll stop before I ramble on forever. In short…

Driving in Japan

PROS – Freedommmmm, protection from the elements, Able to travel further distances, Can be convenient and even necessary if you have far schools.

CONS – Expensive (Buying a car, insurance, the ‘optional’ (read: mandatory) insurance, upkeep, gasoline, shakken etc.), People hitting you up for rides/favors *cough totally something I DIDN’T do… *cough* 

So consider your options when answering this question. Depending on your placement, if accepted, you may HAVE to get a car.

And speaking of placements…

14. Placement Request

This is a big question: Where do you want to live in Japan?

There’s some debate over how you should answer this: some say don’t put anything down and show that you’re flexible and willing to go wherever while others say that by requesting areas in Japan, you present yourself as a more researched (and therefore serious) applicant.

Personally, I think that either are acceptable but I lean more toward the latter argument. Researching areas in Japan can only benefit you and you might even discover something cool that you didn’t know before!

However, if you just request ‘Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe’ or another combination of highly populated areas, you might cause some eyes to roll. Spoiler alert: very few to no JETs are placed in large metropolises like the ones listed above. You’re safer off requesting something else.

You’re able to choose whether you want an urban, suburban or rural placement. Once again, consider which kind of placement you’d do best in. I chose semi-urban and was placed in a sprawling city of 135,000.

Keep in mind, though, that placement requests are all fine and dandy but if you’re accepted, the JET Program can and will send you anywhere. I was lucky enough to get my second placement request of Kumamoto. I was asked about my placement choices in my interview and apparently gave a satisfactory answer.

Next up is the Further Explanation section. This is pretty much self-explanatory so I won’t be giving too many tips here. I recommend you just be open and honest about everything (especially question 16 pertaning to your criminal record!).

For 18. Placement Request Near a Specific Person, if you’re requesting to be by anyone, make sure you have a damn good reason. Married couples and fiancées have a good reason for wanting to be placed near to one another. You and your bff from middle school…probably don’t. At least not to the folks at JET.

Also, when expanding upon your placement request on 19. Placement Request for Specific Location, be sure to write something thoughtful. ‘I requested Chiba because I heard Tokyo Disneyland is in it and it’s real close to Tokyo, which would be cool for me to go to on the weekends.’ is a terrible response.

A better one would perhaps be, ‘I requested Miyazaki prefecture because of the popularity of surfing. I am an avid surfer in my home country and hope to connect with the local community over something that we both enjoy in our respective cultures. Additionally, the proximity to other prefectures in Kyushu would allow me to experience other aspects of Japan.’ Perhaps that’s a bit over-the-top, but you get the point, yes?

Okay! That’s all for this post! I hope I’m helping people out there 🙂 As always, if you have any questions, feel free to drop a comment below!

またね!

APPLYING TO THE JET PROGRAM: Tips and advice from a former JET

***I’ve decided to start a series of posts about applying to the JET Program. While there are dozens of other similar blogs out there, I hope to provide some helpful information for those looking to apply for the 2014 intake. My opinions are, of course, drawn from my own experiences so please don’t assume I’m an expert on anything. Enjoy!***

 

 

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You’ve seen the pamphlets, you’ve talked to the really nice people at the career fair, you’ve checked out the website. And you have decided. You want to teach English as an ALT or work as a CIR on the JET Program. Great! The JET Program is a prestigious, internationally recognized program and as such, it’s understandably competitive. Applying takes almost a year and, to be frank, is a pain in the ass. However, being accepted to JET and travelling to Japan to teach English is an amazing experience. For me, it made all of the stress of applying worth it.

Since the application has not come out yet (and with the official release date always shrouded in vagueness), this is a good time to do some pondering. Take a step back and really think about the decision that you’re making. It’s a big one. Moving several thousand miles away to a country whose culture is vastly different is not an easy task.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself. What are your goals? What do you hope to accomplish by going to Japan? How can being a part of the JET Program help you after your time in Japan is over? And more importantly, what can YOU bring to the JET Program? Why do you want to go to Japan in the first place? If your reasoning falls along the lines of ‘I think Japan is hella cool, bro’ or ‘I love anime and manga’ or ‘I dunno, it seems fun’ then you should stop and come up with a better reason. You will invariably be asked ‘why Japan?’ and the above reasons are major weak sauce.

* Important Note: If your reasoning falls along the lines of ‘I think Asian chicks are hot and totally want a Japanese wife’, then do everyone a favor and punch yourself in the face as hard as you can. Seriously, do it now. And then do it a few more times for good measure. Now gtfo my blog.

Make sure you know what you’re getting in to. While being on JET is an incredible experience, it isn’t without its share of negatives. Know that there is a chance that you could get placed in a town of 3000 people in the middle of a mountain range twenty miles away from a supermarket. Know that in the winter, it’s not uncommon to be able to see your breath in your own apartment. Know that sometimes communicating with your coworkers and students does not happen the way you want or need it to. This can lead to immeasurable frustration. Know that culture shock is a very real thing that can make certain days (and even weeks) miserable.

Know that you may be thrust into situations that you’ve never experiened before. If you were offered raw fish could you eat it? What about if it were still moving on the plate? How about fish semen? Would you be comfortable sitting buckass naked in a natural hot spring with a dozen other people? How would you react if a student jammed their fingers up your butt?

Realize that it’s an experience that can be incredibly challenging at times: not understanding the language, being stared at because you look different, watching a teacher beat the living shit out of a student as a disciplinary action. Japan is a very different place and while these instances aren’t every day occurences, they do happen.

The JET Program is a great way to experience another culture firsthand, but it’s also not for everyone. Before you decide to apply, I think it’s a good idea to really consider what life in Japan would be like.

A good idea is to use the trusty internet and peruse blogs and memoirs of current and former JETs. Try to read more than just one or two. These offer great insight into the good and the bad of being a JET. Message boards that are frequented by ALTs and CIRs are also good resources, but beware of the cynicism and vitriol that is afforded to internet anonymity.

While the above are a great source of information, keep in mind the phrase ‘Every Situation is Different’ (or ESID.) This phrase is repeated ad nauseum by many when discussing JET – so much so that it’s become an unofficial slogan of sorts. And even though CLAIR discourages the use of it, it really is true.

While Tammie B up in Hokkaido could be having the time of her life and making a huge impact on her local community, Daryl O down in BFE, Shikoku could be having a less-than-stellar time being used as a human tape recorder and disrespected by his students or teachers. Sometimes that’s just how it works.

I think that doing research about JET and reading up on both the good and the bad is extremely important before you decide to apply. It can help put things into perspective about what being on the program is really like. It also helps to know that you are, essentially, taking a gamble about what your situation will be like if accepted.

If you are an adaptable person who isn’t afraid to try new things and experiences, JET is for you! If you’re upbeat, motivated and are not afraid to step out of your comfort zone, then you will most likely do fine. Even if you’re not that kind of person and you still want to apply, that’s fine. I’ve known plenty of introverted JETs who aren’t as outgoing or ‘genki’. The great thing about JET is that it takes a wide spectrum of people from all over the world.

The most important thing before you apply, however, is to research! Consider what being accepted would mean to you and how you would make the most of it. Brainstorm certain difficulties and obstacles that you can foresee yourself having and then think of how you would deal with them. Doing this can help you craft a better application and makes you sound a bit more like a serious applicant.

Next time, I’ll talk about the application itself! It’s a doozy.

Goodbye, JET Program.

Our time on JET is at its end

So many things left to attend

But, let’s take some time to reminisce

a’bout all the things that we will miss

Cherry Blossoms, Spring at last

Underneath them, getting trashed

Summer Days: Bright, hot and and wet

Learning to live in our sweat

Watching the leaves in Autumn turn

The smell of rice fields when they burn

Not catching the Winter Flu

Nestled in a kotatsu

First or fifth year, one thing’s sure

JET has been an adventure

Riding cars, boats, bikes and planes

City trams and bullet trains

Getting lost, exploring towns

Culture Shock and Ups and Downs

Of course living here’s not always bliss

There are some things I will not miss

Massive bugs I have to squish

Natto and those pregnant fish

Workplaces that crush your soul

Rigid social gender roles

Raw fish cornucopia

Rampant xenophobia

No Central Heating or Insulation,

Is this not a first world nation?

And I swear I’ll lose all of my poise

If I hear that damn teeth-sucking noise

*tsssss*

….one more time….

We’ve adapted to a life that’s new

And through it all, changed our world view

And now, here in our final days

We’re all preparing to part ways

Saying goodbye is no doubt rough

I’m really not good at this stuff

How do we explain our life here

To those back home who we hold dear?

JTE & HRT, CIR and BOE

ALTs to TOAs, TESL, TOEFL and PAs

To those who are not in the loop

It sounds just like alphabet soup

Then there are things photos can’t show

Of our life in Kumamoto

Hot drinks from vending machines

Adoration from pre-teens

Festivals, warmed toilet seats

So many delicious sweets

Cicadas in the early morn

Conbini store shelves lined with porn

Yakiniku nice and smoky

Long long nights of karaoke

Kakigouri stacked up high

Nomihoudai, mou ippai!

Shrines and temples that are sacred

Chilling in an onsen naked

Walking at night without hassle

Living by an ancient castle

The feeling of a seven year old

Taking your hand into her own

And strolling with you hand in hand

Not caring if you understand

What she’s saying, no translation

Just a simple conversation

The only thing to comprehend

 Is that she’s made a brand new friend

Times like these stick out to me

In my mind, clear as can be

Memories like this are just the start

of countless ones etched on my heart

A heart that’s heavy, beat by beat

with feelings that are bittersweet

So, the time has come to take our leave

And though we want to, shouldn’t grieve

 Because at the end of our contract

We’ll never quite know our impact

On the lives of those who we have met

Through our experiences on JET

And back in all our home countries

We’ll hold on to these memories

This southern land of fire and heat

and beloved black bear with red cheeks

We’ll look back one day years from now

And stop and marvel at just how

We spent time here and made great friends

on this beautiful, small island

And so, our time on JET is at its end

So many things left to attend

But as we go East, South, North and West

I wish all of you the very best

– Ian Cruz!